Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sarah has a mental problem

Sarah had a short life. Only 32 years.

We don't know very much about her as yet, just a few facts and nothing at all about her personality. She was born in about 1818 in England. We don't know where and we don't know who her parents were. We don't know if she had siblings.

But we know her name. It was Sarah, Sarah White.

In 1837, when she was about 19 years old, Sarah married a man who was 23 years old. John Painter was an agricultural labourer from Iwerne Courtney (also known as Shroton) in Dorset. John and Sarah were married at Child Okeford so I think it safe to assume that Sarah was living in that village and may have grown up there but there is no record of any White baptisms in that parish for that period. The villages of Child Okeford and Iwerne Courtney are not very far apart, only four or five kilometres.

Child Okeford parish church (2010)
John and Sarah had four children who were baptised in the parish church at Iwerne Courtney - Eleanor (1837), George (1839), Richard (1842) and Sarah (1844). John would have worked on a farm or farms around the village.

Iwerne Courtney (Shroton) parish church (2010)
Countryside at Iwerne Courtney, Dorset (March 2010)
In January 1848 Sarah was admitted as a pauper inmate to the Dorset Asylum (known as the Forston Asylum) at Charminster. She was there for six months and discharged on 22 June 1848. Presumably she went back to her family at Iwerne Courtney. Her children were young - Eleanor would have been about 10 and young Sarah only four years old. Who looked after them while their mother was absent or ill? Her husband would have had to contribute a few shillings a week to the asylum while she was an inmate so it would have been a drain on the family's limited resources.

Four months later Sarah was again admitted to the asylum, on 5 Oct 1848. This time she was there 16 months and died at the asylum on 7 Feb 1850. She was buried at Iwerne Courtney five days later. She was 32 years old.

The asylum's archives are held in Dorset and I have a plan to acquire a copy of Sarah's file. It is probably quite detailed. It would be interesting to know what form of insanity Sarah had. Was it as 'simple' as post natal depression? And what caused her death? The asylum was only about 22 miles from Iwerne Courtney but was her family able to visit her? The asylum was visited annually by a committee and their reports, published in Dorset newspapers, indicate that the inmates were generally well fed, housed comfortably (for example they had straw-filled palliases rather than just sleeping on straw on the floor) and worked in the garden, laundry, sewing room and so on. Anne Brown is an archivist at the Dorset History Centre. She said: "The treatment that the patients received at the hospital, through our modern eyes, was really quite harsh and not very humanitarian.
There were no anti-psychotic drugs, or medication like we have today. It was just a case of keeping people in secure accommodation away from the rest of society." 

John Painter (also known as Paynter) remarried a year after Sarah's death and migrated to Victoria in 1855 with his family. The youngest child (Sarah Yeaman) was the mother of my husband's great grandmother.


  1. Hi Lorraine
    somehow I have stumbled across your blog and have found it most interesting. Sarah White is my 5th great grandmother. I also would be very interested in her mental health records. Have loved reading about her and John Paynter/Painter. Any info you have I would love to hear about. I am currently attempting my family tree on Ancestory. My name is Wendy Theobald and my tree is under the name Wendy Robertshaw feel free to take a look if your interested. I currently live in Clifton Springs Victoria.

    1. Hi Wendy. Great to hear from you. We'll have to meet for coffee one day because I'm not far away:) I live in Highton. Email me lphelan at bigpond.


I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.



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